Three years ago we left California for one year in Ohio. We were gone longer than planned but back sooner than our California friends expected, which was never. Now I’m back in my sunny native habitat, and my husband is once again in a foreign land, searching for Big Ten football on the TV and lamenting the dearth of local Dairy Queen outposts.
I managed to do some reading this summer, I think because I spent less time cooking. I love nothing better than a farmers market meal, with fruit, vegetables, cheese, bread and the like. But I got an inkling that I might have taken the cooking hiatus too far when my husband asked this summer if I had put us on a hummus diet.
Since I started this blog two years ago, I’ve spent more time writing (or trying to write) than reading. But this summer the words in my head were mostly faint whimpers or primal screams – as anyone who moves six people 2000 miles would surely understand. Reading was a calming escape.
Now that we’re back and everyone’s started school without too much trauma, I thought I’d share a few reflections on my West vs Midwest and a rundown of my summer reading.
What I’ll miss about Ohio
- Nicest people ever. People don’t believe in fences between neighbors in central Ohio. Someone with several acres might have a picturesque low fence marking property boundaries, but in housing developments there are no fences between houses at all. All the backyards blend together and you can see your kid jumping on the trampoline five houses down. So relaxed, so neighborly…and utterly unimaginable in California.
- Affordability. With abundant housing, above-average economy and excellent public schools, our suburban area of Columbus is an ideal place to raise a family. A reasonable cost of living makes single-income households more manageable, and childcare is also more affordable for dual-income households.
- Diversity at school. Though California is an extremely diverse state, Silicon Valley with its wealth of recent decades has become much less so. Thanks to Ohio State University, among the largest in the country, Columbus is a surprisingly diverse and vibrant city, both ethnically and socioeconomically. And our school in Columbus reflected the diversity of the broader local population in a way that our school in California does not.
- Snow days. The kids will miss sledding and snowmen, but mostly they’ll miss the unexpected days off from school.
- Pie. Even Oprah knows about Just Pies, with locations in Westerville, Worthington and Gahanna. Pies are made in the Westerville facility, which usually has the best selection as well as free samples of the pie of the month. Old-school crusts are made with lard, which beats Crisco any day. California reigns over Ohio on bread, but Ohio wins easily on pie.
- Family. Even more than my dream kitchen, I miss all the family members that fill it. The kids have two grandparents, six aunts and uncles and nine cousins nearby, not to mention close neighbors and longtime family friends. Life anywhere else seems a bit quiet and pale in comparison.
Why I’m glad to be back in California
- Fresh air. I love having windows open 24 hours a day. I love the chill in the nights and mornings. My eczema-prone skin appreciates freedom from constant air conditioning or heat.
- Fresh food. Farmers markets. Avocado. Grilled everything.
- Sun. Nothing beats warm sun and cool air, unchangeable but never tiresome. If heaven had weather, this would be it.
- U-turns. Not allowed in Ohio, so I find it strangely liberating every time I bust out a 180-degree turn here.
- Family. My mom and brothers are here, so it always feels good to be home. And now that the uncles are married, my kids have high hopes for a baby in the family. For now they have declared my sister-in-law’s tiny terrier their California cousin.
Women in the news
The powerful essay in The Atlantic by former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, sparked a new round of conversation on women in the workforce. Part personal narrative, part thoughtful analysis, part call to action – rarely do high-level women speak so honestly about the challenges of balancing work and family life.
New Yahoo CEO and former Google guru Marissa Mayer, pregnant at 37 with her first child, took heat this summer for saying that she plans to work through a short maternity leave. It’s deja vu for those of us who remember the animated debate a decade ago when Acting Governor Massachusetts Jane Swift gave birth to twins in office. Should we be telling Paul Ryan not to run for Vice President with three young kids? Who are we to judge?
Until cookbook author Marion Cunningham passed away this summer at age 90, I didn’t realize that her culinary career did not begin until age 50, when a friend convinced her to attend a cooking class with James Beard in Oregon. She suffered from agoraphobia and had never been outside California. But James Beard became a mentor for her and gave her a fresh start at midlife as food writer and home cooking authority – and this was long before 50 was the new 40. Inspiring.
Struggling with her weight after her third pregnancy at age 42, Janice Min, former editor-in-chief of Us Weekly, lamented in the New York Times with great irony the pressure on moms to bounce back to pre-baby fabulousness (or better) that has trickled down from the past decade’s obsession with Hollywood celebrity moms. It may be flattering that the TV image of moms has gone from Roseanne to Sofia Vergara – better certainly than the idea that female attractiveness ends at age 30. But it’s also one more unrealistic expectation that makes women feel like they’re not quite keeping up.
When the great humorist and screenwriter Nora Eprhon died this summer of cancer at age 71, I was glad I once had the chance at a conference to witness her legendary warmth and wit. I loved her writing, her passion for New York City, her enthusiasm for food. I honored her memory this summer by reading her two essay collections and re-reading her 1996 Wellesley commencement address in which she acknowledges the challenges and opportunities for women, saying, “Be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Thank you, Nora.
Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson – Portrait of an obsessive visionary and a fascinating look back at the history of personal computing. Especially interesting to me as it took place in my hometown and neighboring communities. But also particularly sad, as my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the same week Steve Jobs died of it.
What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, by Joe Navarro – A fascinating handbook on body language by a master interrogator. I may have to re-read this when my chatty children become nonverbal teens.
An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler – A beautiful book, simultaneously philosophical and practical, about economy in the kitchen. Thanks to my dear friend Lily for thinking of me and sending it.
Flour, by Joanne Chang-Myers – Even the gorgeous photos and tempting recipes in this excellent baking guide couldn’t tempt me into turning on the oven in Ohio’s summer heat. But this book gets rave reviews, and I’m excited to try baking some goodies this fall. My sweet friend Nicole sent me this book, and one day I’ll visit her in Boston so we can eat at Flour Bakery together.
I always find Chris Rock smart, funny and likable, and in this interview with Terry Gross on NPR he talks honestly and engagingly about success and family. I am a big fan.
For lovers of the English language, this Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Teaching ‘Taco Bell’s Canon'” is a hilarious read.
Today’s kids, mine included, are shockingly unskilled compared to the old days when even young children did real labor on the family farm. This New Yorker piece, “Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?”, blames modern parenting but also reminds us how things could be different.
Another excellent piece is this review from the Wall Street Journal, “Opting Out of the Rug Rat Race,” which argues that today’s overprotective parents prevent children from learning the life skills – motivation, perseverance, overcoming setbacks – that will prepare them much more for success in life than good grades ever will.
A high school friend just posted a new status update: “The transformation is now complete. I am driving a mini van.” If she were here with me I’d give her a wan high-five. Our return to California included the long-dreaded minivan purchase.
I’m not a car person, and with four kids a minivan was inevitable. It’s practical. I’m practical. But driving a minivan – mini only compared to, say, a house – is much harder on my female ego than turning 40.
A minivan shouts “I am a middle-aged mom” the way a Volvo station wagon says “I’m afraid of my wife.” I need a female version of the word “emasculating” to describe minivans.
But it’s all for the good of the team. Everyone fits comfortably. I don’t have to worry about kids throwing open car doors in tight parking lots. And maybe 15 years from now I’ll trade it in for the Mini Cooper I’ve always wanted. After all, Marion Cunningham bought her beloved Jaguar with the advance she received for The Breakfast Book at age 57. Why not?